#The High School Experience
Making the Most Out of Summer Activities 

Summers are a time for students to relax and rejuvenate––and after a challenging school year, you deserve it! 

Summer is also a perfect opportunity to build on your extracurricular activities, one of the five factors under your control in the college application process. Most importantly, summers allow time for you to pursue topics and projects that you are passionate about but may not have enough time to focus on during the school year. This will not only add depth to your college applications but make the summer more enjoyable, too.

Extracurricular pursuits include everything from community service to internships/jobs to hobbies to family obligations and more. Above all, you should embrace your authentic self, rather than feeling compelled to participate in an activity solely for your college application. At Ivy Experience, our mantra is “Better Person, Better Applicant.” 

While 9th and 10th grades are prime times for exploration, by 11th grade, you will hopefully be diving deeper into the activities that matter most to you, whether it’s by taking on leadership roles or finding new ways to meaningfully engage with them. 

To plan for the summer: 

  1. Start with what interests you, personally. The key is truly enjoying your pursuits, so what are two or three things that you like to do, or would like to learn more about?
  2. Ask yourself how that interest can be taken to the next level. There are boundless opportunities for more advanced learning through online courses. (And  a chance to explore whether that prospective major is really right for you!) Everyone with a laptop has the ability to start a blog, podcast, or video series to connect with others, not to mention share knowledge, skills, talents, or hobbies through Zoom. Sing and play an instrument? Start teaching lessons, or lead virtual sing-a-longs. Love baking for fun? Start a baking vlog to share delicious recipes.
  3. Consider how your pursuit can be not only personally enriching but could also help others. Any creative hobby can turn into an artistic collection or Etsy business, where proceeds are donated to those in need. Binge-watching “West Wing” or spending hours reading/watching the news can turn into advocacy and activism. For anyone with civic engagement and socially conscious interests, try reaching out to political campaigns, local and national, for volunteer opportunities. With so many small businesses looking for support, you could offer any of your skills for free to local companies: offer to build them a business website, or take professional photos for them to build up their social media presence.
  4. Make it happen. Without the structure of a school environment, it can be difficult to know where to start. We suggest creating a schedule. Make your pursuits a part of your daily routine so that every morning starts with direction and purpose—something to look forward to. Form daily or weekly objectives, and track your progress as you go, so that later, you can demonstrate how much you’ve achieved and grown through your commitments. Reach out to friends, your favorite teachers, or others in your community to discuss your projects with them, gather new ideas and feedback, and see if they’d like to join you and collaborate.
Common Routes to Summer Activities 

Programs and Summer Coursework

Programs like the Governor’s School offer structure and intellectual engagement. Note that these programs are often competitive and require essays and applications for admission (these applications are usually due in the early part of the year). 

Many useful and fascinating academic courses can be found online (and often for free!). Websites like Coursera and Classcentral.com offer a wide range of classes for all levels and subjects. 

Make it your own: What topics would you like to dig into that are not offered at your high school? What skills would you like to learn? From language to coding classes to Yale’s famous free course, “The Science of Well Being,” ask yourself how you can expand your mind and enrich your life.

Jobs, Research, and Internships

Jobs are one of the most commonly undertaken summer activities and a good avenue for students who did not participate or were not able to participate in many extracurriculars during the first two years of high school. Any job that gives you real-life experience and skills is worth doing, but work that connects you to your interests is even better. 

Internships are also an amazing way to gain pre-professional experience in a field that you might be exploring. Research with a professor at a local college in person (or even remotely!) can be a fascinating way to spend time and contribute to a body of knowledge.

Make it your own: Just because a job, internship, or research assistantship isn’t advertised doesn’t mean it’s not a possibility! Don’t be afraid to reach out to local companies, universities, professional organizations, or political campaigns to see if they could use support. 

Service, Social Advocacy, and Civic Engagement

Every community has its own needs and volunteer opportunities. Service can be a great way to make an impact, and to learn more about your community and yourself. 

Advocacy is another often overlooked aspect of service. Nonprofits, political campaigns, local government, and your own school are all places to start.

Make it your own: Lend your time and support to causes that are especially meaningful to you. How can your service work support your principles? Ask yourself: where is there a need, and how can I use my unique skills to fill it? 

When You Need Motivation

Even students struggling with motivation can turn their favorite pastimes into meaningful engagement.

Do you find yourself filling every free hour with video games? An idea: organize a tournament where every participant puts in a certain amount of money, and the winner gets to choose a charity to donate to. If the idea gains traction, make a social media page and turn it into a series.

Or how about if you’re filling those same hours with Netflix? What if you organize a virtual film discussion club (or throw in the corresponding books and make it a film-book club)? This is a great way to stay connected with socially distant friends, and if it continues into the fall, you can try to get a teacher to sponsor a school-sanctioned “club.”

The only real limit to making any interest, curiosity, or pursuit more personally enriching—and beneficial to the broader world—is your imagination. So now is the time to embrace your ikigai and brainstorm every possible way to gain greater insight, deepen your intellectual or career exploration, and build skills and character development. 

Those who succeed in doing so tend to be viewed favorably in the admissions process, and will also gain a great deal this summer: learning more about yourself, helping and connecting with others, and embracing their passions—all central to thriving in college, and beyond.